The despair of Russian peasants facing starvation during a famine that spirited away the country in the years after the revolution is revealed by these haunting pictures of human heads for sale.
More than five million people died during the cataclysm, which began in 1921, and lasted through 1922.
Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as “Lenin”, had been in charge of the country since 1917. In a chilling disregard for the suffering of his fellow countrymen he instructed food to be seized from the poor.
Lenin’s Bolsheviks party believed peasants were actively trying to impair the war effort, and by taking their food away – it reduced their strength.
The famine was able to take root with ease due to the economic problems caused by World War I, five years of civil war, and a drought in 1921 which led to 30 million Russians becoming malnourished.
As Lenin declared, ‘let the peasants starve’, the result was to force them to resort to trading human flesh on the black market.
Russian academics have previously researched and classified examples of cannibalism, and corpse eating, and in one account described how a woman refused to give over her husband’s dead body because she was using it for meat.
The starving peasants were even seen digging up recently buried corpses to retrieve their flesh, as well as eating grass, and animals that were previously considered pets.
The police took no action as cannibalism was considered a legitimate method of survival.
Eventually aid workers from America and Europe arrived, and in 1921 one wrote a stomach churning description of what they’d seen:
“Families were killing, and devouring fathers, grandfathers, and children.”
Another aid worker reported:
“Ghastly rumors about sausages prepared with human corpses though officially contradicted, were common. In the market, among rough huckstresses swearing at each other, one heard threats to make sausages of a person.”
Under the headline ‘Mother turns cannibal’, the Mirror reported on January 16,1922: ‘Famine is so acute in the Pugatjewsk district of Samara that a woman at the village of Mokscha was found eating the corpse of her daughter.’
One of the worst hit places was the city of Samara, situated in the southeastern part of European Russia at the confluence of the Volga and Samara Rivers.
Aid from outside Russia was initially rejected by Lenin because he saw it as other countries interfering.
Polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen came to the city in 1921, and was horrified by what he saw – almost the entire city was dying from hunger.
He raised 40 billion Swiss francs, and established up to 900 places where people could get food.
Lenin was eventually convinced to let international aid agencies in, and Nansen was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The American American Relief Administration, who were told they could not help in 1919, were granted access to the sick, and starving in 1921, and provided great relief along with European aid agencies such as Save The Children, and The Great Humanitarian: Herbert Hoover’s Food Relief Efforts.
Lenin died shortly after the famine, in 1924, and was replaced by Joseph Stalin who became the leader of the Soviet Union.